Using third party services like Gmail, Yahoo, Facebook, Flickr, etc… to communicate and work online is very convenient but also has huge drawbacks: even ignoring the privacy issues exposed by the Snowden affair, you become completely dependent on a private (foreign) company that may cancel your account in any moment, because they basically feel like it, or even disappear in a few years (Facebook or Google too big to fail? That’s the same thing people said of Geocities or MySpace just a few years ago).
- Diaspora: Free Software that should replace Facebook and similar services, by directly connecting in one decentralized social network all the users running it on their computers
- the original FreedomBox proposal: personal micro-computers with wireless connectivity, costing a few dollars and looking more or less like a cellphone charger, filled with Free Software that would do, at least, all I have written here
- the FreedomBox spin-off of the Debian Gnu/Linux distribution: a complete operating system that provides the same service, able to run on the hardware boxes of point 2, or on any other computer
- oh, and of course there is Mailpile, the “take your e-mail back” project
As great as they are, in my opinion all those proposals have serious limits. Diaspora and Mailpile are just one piece of the puzzle. Mailpile explicitly says that, to be really self sufficient, you must add SMTP and IMAP servers to it (that is build just what I called a Virtual Personal Email Server three years ago…). Besides, this cannot be a puzzle. These days, people use (at least) email AND social networking AND online storage. If average computer end-users have to assemble pieces they will never get out of the digital walled gardens in which they are now. They need and deserve integrated services, with one configuration panel.
The hardware and software FreedomBoxes are both too (unnecessarily!) complicated, not flexible enough and not manageable by most of the people who would need them. The hardware one is for individuals with constant access to safe places with affordable, stable electricity and Internet connectivity, in which they could plug their boxes.
Cool, and the sooner it arrives on the market the better! But it’s not for everybody, and if the only way to break free of walled gardens without being a programmer or losing data is owning a specific type or category of hardware device it can’t be complete freedom, can it now?
The software FreedomBox doesn’t have this problem, but it still is an all-or nothing proposition. What if I prefer some other operating system? Where are integration and user-friendlyness? In my opinion, it makes more sense to first make, of what they call “Leaving the public Cloud”, ONE software bundle that may be installed and ran, with ONE configuration panel, on any server.
Yeah, sure, real 100% freedom/privacy/control only come from running only Free Software on hardware you own. No question about that. But in real life this looks as elitism and snobism too often to cause enough change in reasonable times. Give people an easy way to try today what real freedom would feel like, and many more people will be ready to migrate to complete solutions when they arrive, and willing to do it.